Henry Moore, “enlarges existence into something more significant than everyday life, giving some importance to it, a monumentality and grandeur.”
I love being in the company of artists, and these days I have been blessed spending time with an artist friend from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who is visiting Santa Fe. Sarah and I have spent hours together going to galleries, discussing philosophy, writing poetry, painting and drawing, and last night attending a world premiere of an opera, called Life Is A Dream, by Lewis Spratlan at The Santa Fe Opera.
Sarah is a painter, so I invited her to work with me in my studio. We decided to make a still life painting. First we needed objects to paint. I suggested a pretty green vase and an arrangement of fruit. The vase was already in my studio and I cut some flowers from my yard to go in it. Next we went together to a grocery store to select vegetables or fruit. I am always interested in green or red peppers because they can grow in fantastic shapes and have bright, pure color. Eggplant is dazzling to look at for its burnished purple hues. At last we settled on apples and cherries.
In the studio, we arranged the objects. I enjoyed how easily Sarah and I came to a quick and deft solution to a pleasing arrangement—it only took minutes and without fuss. I lent her supplies and an easel, turned on music, and then we began. Our efforts took two days and we had great fun together amidst laughter and tears.
The painting process has correlation to life and meaning, so here is the story: The beginning is concept, to get a mental picture of something, even vague, that is the intention to pursue. Once I had created my intention, I made the still life arrangement that would be my inspiration to work from. I knew that I wanted to honor the objects with a realistic portrayal, and not something abstract. Standing a few feet away from the tableau, I thought of the proportions and carefully made a drawing. The foundation of art is important, because everything that happens afterward is affected. After I was satisfied with the foundation, I began laying in the oil color, using my palette knife to apply the paint directly. Most artists paint with brushes and only use the palette knife to mix paints, but I have developed a technique using the palette knife. It is very pleasurable to gaze at pure oil colors on a palette, and then mix them to get more colors. It is an art in itself and some artists, such as Pierre Bonnard, Claude Monet, and Mark Rothko, are known for their great sense of color, while other artists, like Michelangelo, Paul Cezanne, and Andrew Wyeth, are famous for being superb draftsmen.
The trick in painting is to create a visual symphony that uses just the right structure, tonality and timbre to produce the greatest effect. Of course colors affect our emotions, so the artist uses color to great affect. The important thing is clarity, so that the original inspiration speaks eloquently. So much can go wrong. Colors can become muddied, the drawing might be bad, proportions look awkward . . . in short it takes great practice and a good helping of talent to accomplish art. Only a few make it to the professional level.
As I worked on my still life, I became frustrated with the background, so at one point, scraped it out and tried something new. This is an important lesson: if something is not going well, even if you have invested in it, be prepared to change course to get to something better. When I destroyed the dark background I had painted and began laying in lighter tones, the whole painting seemed to breathe a sigh of relief and speak to me, saying, this is better and now I am happy. And this is what art is about—adaptability, creative pursuit and change.
Any great work of art... revives and re-adapts time and space, and the measure of its success is the extent to which it makes you an inhabitant of that world - the extent to which it invites you in and lets you breathe its strange, special air. ~Leonard Bernstein, What Makes Opera Grand?